How to Live a Low Plastic Life

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So, we’re more than halfway through the year and this week I put my black bin out to be emptied again (it’s been a few months). Yet again it’s mostly filled with plastic packaging, a couple of disposable razors, a toothbrush and the pesky toothpaste and hand cream tubes that for years I thought I could recycle in my household bin collection, but I’ve now discovered are only for for landfill. (Note to self, learn what all those recycle logos on products actually mean). But, once again the main culprit is plastic food bags and wrap that cannot go in my household recycling.

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I’ve realised that the “plastic free” ambition is not achievable and I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. Instead, just as we set out to go low carbon in 2006 (and cut out CO2 emissions by half) we’re going low plastic. Much as I love scrolling though the pristine while shelves of the “zero wasters” on Instagram, their kilner jars filled with bulk buy dried goods, their shiny bathrooms equipped with safety razors and shampoo bars, I just find their so called solutions just cause a whole heap of new headaches for me.

Take the safety razor for example. I’ve bought my fair share of disposable razors over the years and considered switching to a safety razor with steel blades, but as the zero waste bloggers are starting to discover, those pesky steel blades are darned awkward to recycle. They can’t be tossed in your household metal recycling (and despite the tips and “zero waste hacks” you might read on Instagram, never, ever just fill a steel food can with used blades and throw it in your household recycling). Apart from the safety issues when your recycling is hand sorted at your local MRF, they can cause all kinds of problems to the machinery. There’s a really useful piece on how to dispose of razor blades on this American website. I asked the friendly guys at my local recycling centre if they would take them in the general metal collection bins and they said no, but suggested I take it up with my local Council, which I will do.

But, I have given up disposable razors. I’ve switched to a combination of waxing and using an epilator. Yes, the epilator is plastic, but over it’s lifetime that’s a lot less non recycleable plastic than the razors and my model seems to go several weeks without needing to be recharged. Lucy Siegle (who incidentally has a new book out)*, has a few suggestions in the old post from the Guardian, answering a reader’s questions “What is the most eco – friendly method of hair removal”

I’ve also discovered that some of the larger supermarkets will recycle the thin, stretchy film and food bags that I end up with after an Ocado delivery. Thanks to Recycle Now and Karen Cannard who writes the Rubbish Diet blog, for that info. So now I’ve started saving up the plastic bags for when I find out which of my local supermarkets offers this service. When I go to the supermarket myself, or to the greengrocers, I’m still using a combination of old plastic food bags and cotton mesh bags. No-one seems to comment any more.

This just leaves the problem of the toothbrush and toothpaste. I have lots of issues with my teeth and I’m reluctant to give up my toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Instead, I’m writing to the company that make sit on a regular basis to ask when they’ll switch back to a metal tube. I switched to a wooden toothbrush, but I still have dozens of plastic ones that have been saved up for years as cleaning tools and every now and again one of them finds it’s way into the rubbish.

I think a Low Plastic Life, is definitely the way forward for us. I can’t see a time when we’ll ever be completely zero plastic – it’s far too useful – but using it wisely and thinking of it a valuable  resource  that is “too precious to throw away” has made me think differently about our buying habits in general.

I’d love to know if any of you have adjusted your plastic buying habits, the wins, the epic fails and the tips you’d love to share. The “Five on Friday” format is changing, so instead of a list of links and snippets I’ve read or watched I’m going to start sharing ideas and some of our simple swaps to help you choose a low plastic life. In September I’ll be showing you how we made the move to a “low plastic bedroom”, so if that’s got your wondering, check back on the first Friday in September for the first in my new series and lots more new content on Baking and Making.

Until then I’m taking a short break for August!

  • I’ll be reviewing this new book soon.

 

 

Recipe: Sticky Stuff Remover

How to remove sticky labels

I make lots of jams, flavoured gins and preserves. That means I’m always scavenging empty bottles and jars to store my produce. Every jar is washed and the original label removed – but sometimes that’s easier said than done! Some labels are so firmly glued on, nothing seems to shift them! You can buy “goo gone”  or “sticky stuff remover” products, and some people swear by WD40, but I wanted to see if I could come up with my own. Usually I scrape off as much of the label as I can, then soak in hot, soapy water. If I’m lucky, the label slides off and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Occasionally, nothing works and even huge amounts of elbow grease (which, incidentally is the best cleaner available)  won’t shift the darned glue – what do they use to stick those labels?

You can see from the photo below, even my all singing, all dancing recipe won’t work 100% of the time (that clear plastic bottle has defeated me), but most of the bottles are clean and label free. Ready to be filled with lotions, potions and produce from my kitchen garden (look out for my lavender champagne recipe, coming soon).

So, what’s my “secret” recipe? Simple, good old trusty baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda)* and vegetable oil! You’ll also need a dash of perseverance and plenty of elbow grease (for the uninitiated, that’s good old fashioned wrist / arm scrubbing action).

Simply mix equal quantities of oil and baking soda in a dish and apply to any remaining glue or label. Leave for up to an hour before scrubbing off with wire wool, an old toothbrush or your favourite eco friendly abrasive cloth (I use the Body Shop hemp body mitts, they are great for household tasks). The baking soda is the star of the show here, the oil just binds it and stops it sliding off the jars and bottles. You can use any oil, some blogs recommend coconut oil, others olive oil*.

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Wipe off the oil / baking soda residue and rinse your jars in hot soapy water and leave to dry. Remember they will need to be washed, dried and sterilised before use to avoid risk of contamination.

Once you’ve filled your jars, you’ll need to label them with contents and an ingredients list. The best labels I’ve found for the job come from Eco Craft. They also offer  free pdf templates for their labels, which are very handy and save a lot of time setting up your own.

Not so difficult eh? Like most home made cleaning products and home remedies, the most valuable ingredient is time. I like to keep a jar of baking soda by the sink (clearly labelled), so that I can use it for all kinds of cleaning tasks. It’s great for removing burnt on food from roasting pans, or getting stubborn stains off the coffee maker too.

 

  • Health and safety note: Whenever you’re making your own eco –  friendly products, remember to wear rubber gloves and an apron. The ingredients might be less toxic, but they can still cause irritation and can stain your clothing. Always use clean containers and avoid mixing shop bought cleaners with your home made ones  as chemical reactions can occur. Wash all surfaces and utensils after use.

Why Am I Being Sold Solutions I Don’t Need to Problems I Don’t Have? (Answer – Guilt & Insecurity)!

washable make up remover padsI care what other people think about me. I know I shouldn’t, but there it is, I’m a sensitive soul. When my daughter was a toddler, I hosted a Mums and Toddlers coffee morning for my local NCT group. I happened to overhear an American “Mom” telling the lady sitting next to her that she had just used my bathroom “… and there was the most disgusting bar of soap” by the sink, she went on to lecture this other Mum about how “unhygenic” real soap is, that in the USA no self respecting Mother  would dream of offering such a dirty, germ infested thing to guests. Needless to say, my sensitive soul was mortified and I went straight out that afternoon and loaded up with liquid soap. Over the years I’ve tried organic, refillable, eco friendly versions, but always I had the same misgivings that I was buying a solution to a problem I didn’t have. I rebelled and went back to soap bars a couple of years later (there is still a bottle of liquid soap in my bathroom for those who wish to use it – it’s been standing there so long, the sun has bleached the contents and the once coloured liquid soap is now clear).

While it’s great that I’m making and using cotton wash cloths and make up removers instead of disposable cotton pads, their positive impact is lessened by all the disposable, non recyclable cr*p that fills my bin every week. The more I think about this incident, the more I begin to realise that my house is filled with stuff I don’t need need or never really wanted. How many of us have been sold washing liquid pods, microfibre cleaning cloths, bottled water, disposable everything in the name of convenience? Look at the contents of your fridge, tomato ketchup in squeezy plastic bottles (because it’s “so difficult” to turn a glass bottle upside down and bash out the last few dollops), milk in plastic containers instead of the once returned and re-used glass milk bottle because it’s so much more convenient to buy a bulk carton from the supermarket than have it delivered fresh every morning by the milk man.

Marketing companies are constantly on the look out for new improved ways to get us to part with our money and they are rarely eco – friendly. Now that you’ve ditched your disposable coffee cup, binned the bottled water, bought yourself a bamboo toothbrush and a stainless steel straw (all the “must haves” to display your earth friendly credentials these days), what do you do next?

I’m making a start by thinking about all those modern conveniences that supposedly make my life so much easier. The pump action cosmetic  bottles, the flip tops on shampoo, the plastic lined bags that I buy my ground coffee in are all on my hit list. For years we’ve been washing and re-using plastic food bags, take away containers and yoghurt pots, but eventually I’d like to stop  buying them completely (If I can just wean Mr T off his addiction to putting sandwiches in a plastic bag that would be a start). I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I think that by asking myself “Will this purchase make my life easier in the long term”? I might be able to make a dent in all that packaging that fills my household rubbish bin.

All tips, ideas, suggestion to help me on my journey to a less complicated life welcome…

 

Green (ish)

2013-11-03 10.24.21Labels are tricky. Over the years I’ve struggled with how to define my lifestyle. Is it slow? Mindful? Intentional (more of that another day). Or am I green, low carbon, eco friendly or ethical? The problem is, however I define myself, someone else will have a different set of values. I’ve been told my lifestyle isn’t “ethical” because I eat meat and “green” still carries all sorts of baggage. Whenever I find a way to describe how we live, someone else will find fault or gleefully pick up on my failings.

So, I’ve tended to stick to “Greenish” if people ask. The fact is, I just think of our lifestyle as “normal”. Well, it’s normal for us. Trying to avoid waste, thinking about our shopping habits and trying to buy clothes made of natural fibres in factories that value their workers all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

My neighbour recently “went vegan”, she’s on a mission to convert us all to a plant based lifestyle. Yesterday, she drove a 10 mile round trip to buy  a tetra pak of soya milk (she’d run out and “can’t” drink her coffee black). I thought about our own purchasing habits. When I run out of milk, I can walk to the local farm, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle from the vending machine and be home again in under half an hour. I struggle with the idea of getting in the car and driving so far to buy one thing. The packaging has to be recycled, the ingredients in her milk were part of the mechanisation of food production that I’m trying to avoid. But, she’s happy. Her choice didn’t harm an animal, that’s her bottom line.

So, how do we stay friends? Our ethical, moral and  lifestyle choices seem to be at odds. I buy organic, Fairtrade and local. She buys vegan ready meals, wears plastic shoes and acrylic jumpers from Primark. She eats an awful lot of imported fruit and veg. Air miles, carbon footprint and the issues of recycling aren’t on the list of things she worries about. She has made her choices and she’s happy with her decisions.  I’m happy(ish)  with mine.

Does it matter that someone else has a different set of values and priorities? Just because someone has a different idea of “a good life”, does that make it OK to criticise and condemn? I find myself mulling this over a lot at the moment. I would dearly love to reduce the amount we recycle. I really struggle with the concept that an overflowing recycling bin is a badge of honour – I’d much rather we just didn’t buy so much stuff in the first place. I worry about how many clothes we own and fantasise about building a capsule wardrobe, filled with eco friendly cotton, linen and wool. Yet most of my clothes come from charity shops and surely that has merit in a greenish life?

I struggle to know what’s best. I have a penchant for sparkling water. Is it better to buy in huge plastic bottles, smaller glass ones or invest in a soda stream and make my own?  My instinct tells me glass recycling is “better” than plastic, but I don’t know enough to be sure. A soda stream is made of hard plastic, needs refills of gas cyclinders and would involve a trip into town when I need a new one. I am confused.

If I’m confused, with my background in environmental education, community organising and low carbon consultancy what hope does anyone else have? For the time being I’ve settled on buying glass bottles and trying to reduce my overall consumption (on the basis that glass can be recycled over again, while plastic is much harder to process and recycled plastic has a limited market). If I’m wrong on that, please let me know where I can find out for sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion we can spend too much time worrying about “doing the right thing”, and that even in this internet age, getting accurate and useful information is a tricky business. I’m reaching the conclusion that simply buying less “stuff” might be the answer for us. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that buying single use  or “disposable” products makes me uneasy. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share my journey to less stuff. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into our house, reducing our plastic addiction and finding solutions to all those “disposable” products that make our lives “simpler”.

If you’re struggling with the same dilemmas, or have solutions to these “eco worries”, do let me know. Perhaps this is a journey we can take together?